How humour in television commercials reflects and determines contemporary societal issues
Phillips, Dawn Faye
This study examined how humour is used within the social context of humourous television commercials (n = 75) as a medium for and determiner of contemporary societal issues. The commercials were analyzed using categories developed through a combination of the guidelines provided by Fowles (1996) and Foss (1996), with an in-depth analysis conducted on the categories determined to be most relevant to the research question. Due to the prevalent use of stereotypes in this sample, results from the analysis were organized using stereotypes as a primary theme, This theme was then further divided into the stereotypes that were supported and those that were contradicted in this sample. Information demonstrating the role of other themes (e.g., sexuality) or categories (e.g., music) in the development of the narratives was also included. The most salient finding was that the humour found in this sample of commercials was frequently at the expense of the males in the commercials, supporting the notion of males being portrayed as a "stupid group." However, this group differs from traditional "stupid groups" in important ways. Whereas members of traditional "stupid groups" belong to marginalized and peripheral parts of society, members from the "stupid group" in this study are from a dominant and powerful part of society. The representation of men, women, and families in this sample of commercials reflects changes in family structure and the associated stereotypes of mothers and fathers. These findings are discussed within the context of social and economic changes and the impact of these changes on the evolution of stereotypical gender roles. The notable exclusion of non-traditional family constellations in this sample highlights the way in which commercials serve to reinforce mainstream cultural values. In this sample of television commercials, success is portrayed in a way that reinforces a common stereotype of successful individuals. Although this finding might suggest an additional "stupid group" of individuals who are successful, the "successful" characters were also male, making the distinction of a "stupid group" of successful individuals separate from the "stupid group" of males impossible to discern in this sample.